Mike Sanderson on board ABN Amro 1: Batten down hatches for start of sea battle

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The Independent Online

Both ABN AMRO boats are very much geared for the typical conditions of 15 knots plus, so we look forward to seeing them come into their own when we start the first offshore leg today. The team is very upbeat and looking forward to letting rip in 20-plus knots, which will give us the chance to show what these boats are really capable of.

The focus this week has switched to final preparations for the first leg to Cape Town, which starts today in Vigo. Every part of the boat needs to be immaculate and ready for anything Neptune can throw at us. We also have to make sure that the crew is in the best possible physical condition as the boats are faster, wetter and more extreme than ever before. Our trainer is modifying the crew's training schedule to ensure that they get to the start in peak form.

Ever since the very first Volvo Ocean Race (previously the Whitbread Round the World Race), the boat that has won the first leg has gone on to win the race overall, so it will be interesting to see if the same happens this time.

The forecast for today's start is almost so good that I don't want to talk about it - it has us in 15 knots of wind slowly building to 30 knots and it is all downwind. This will mean fast, furious and exciting sailing. One of the early, big decisions will be how hard to push on the first wet and windy night of the race. I see this as being a key part of my role.

This race is really intriguing and, in my opinion, the most open ever. Normally a clear favourite has emerged, yet I don't believe there is one this time even if some believe it's us at ABN AMRO. One thing's for sure - it's going to be a very exciting eight months of life at the extreme. The first in-port race in the new format last weekend was always going to be an interesting affair. The first opportunity to see the new class of Volvo 70 boats racing each other, it was D-day for our 18-month campaign and it did not go as planned.

We have to compete in the seven in-port races surrounded by spectator boats. The objective is to offer a more spectator-friendly aspect to the event, but the results represent 20 per cent of the overall race points. So, while the emphasis is still very much on offshore sailing, we had to think carefully about the design of our boats.

As day one approached it looked increasingly like there was going to be very little wind, which is far from ideal for us. In fact the wind speed never rose above seven knots all day. Our race was not in good shape even before the start gun went off. The spectator crowds moved in so close there simply was not room to manoeuvre and this forced us into a bad position. From then on it was very tough to get back. We didn't.

On the whole the in-port races have been well received by the fleet and everyone agrees it is a great part of the mix.

The issue with crowd control, however, will have to be controlled more tightly to see it doesn't interfere with the racing, especially as we hope the upcoming inshore races will be sailed in stronger winds.

New Zealand's Mike Sanderson is the skipper of ABN AMRO 1 and will be sending regular reports from the Volvo Ocean Race to The Independent.